Tate Makes Haste

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.--Burlington freshman Brandon Tate didn't expect to see the football field at all this season when he reported to UNC. Now he's one of Carolina's most potent weapons on special teams as a starter.

He is a household name now to Tar Heel fans, but he wasn't exactly on the UNC recruiting radar all along. The Carolina coaches stumbled upon him somewhat by accident in watching film of other players at Cummings High School in Burlington. But once they discovered him, head coach John Bunting knew immediately where he saw Tate's future.

"Watching some players at his high school on tape, the guy that jumped out to me the most was Brandon Tate returning punts," Bunting said. "I said to Coach Sanders, 'Who is this guy?' He told me and I said, 'We need to know more about this guy.' We followed him and were able to get him to commit, get him signed."

Tate arrived at Carolina expecting to bide his time way down on the depth chart at wide receiver, one of the deepest positions on the team, but he was given the chance to contribute on the punt return team and he didn't disappoint.

"They put all freshmen on some kind of special teams," Tate recalled. "We were catching kicks off the [kicking] machine. Then we had our first scrimmage and they wanted to see what the freshmen could do. I scored on my first one and we went from there."

"The first thing we wanted to see was who could catch the ball," special teams coach Andre' Powell explained. "Then we wanted to see who had speed and could make people miss. He fit those two criteria.

"Going into the opening game against Georgia Tech, we had to make a decision. We thought he had a chance to be the best guy, but were we willing to put a freshman back there? We said, 'Hey, let's go for it - don't play scared. Let's put the best guy back there, and hopefully he won't drop one."

"I was really happy," Tate said with a grin remembering when he was first found out that he would be the starter in the opener. "This is college; I didn't expect to come in and start right away… It did seem unreal. As soon as I [found out], I called my Mom and told them and they were happy too."

There is always a concern as to how a freshman will react once he takes his place on the stage of college football, but Tate has performed admirably in spite of his youth. So far this season he has returned 15 punts for an average of 9.4 yards over the first three games of the season.

His longest returns of each game this season have tallied 26, 17, and 40 yards against Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, and NC State, respectively. Last season the Tar Heels managed only 7.6 yards per punt with the longest of 28 yards.

"The hardest part is just thinking, 'Are you going to drop it?' because all these people are looking," Tate said. "You just have to do what you do…

"What is going through my head is, 'Are my teammates blocking? How fast are people coming?' I look up and I look down to see where everybody is. I want to see how fast they are coming down. I'm kind of scared to get hit, but I trust my teammates."

Blocking has been a point of emphasis throughout the season, even to the point of breaking down each punt coverage team player by player.

"I think what we have done is to invest a lot of time in figuring out our opponents," Powell said. "Who is their best cover guy? How are we going to block him? Which guy can't run? Let him go free.

"In some situations we double guys that are really good and let guys go that we don't think are going to be a factor in the coverage… We know what size shoe [each player] wears, when his birthday is, and where he buys his milk on the weekends."

In spite of his early success, Tate still has not reached his potential and has room to improve.

"Some balls hit the ground that he needs to catch," Powell said, "he has to do some things in regards to protecting the ball better, and he's got to learn when he's got all he can get to lay down so that he doesn't get held up and then beat up."

"I think we made the right decision and he is gaining confidence as he continues to play," Bunting said. "I think he has a great future."

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